Sunday, November 17, 2013

Monday Morning Meditation #101: Not By Our Hand

Reading through the book of Daniel, I simply had to stop at the powerful dream that Nebuchadnezzar had. Personally, I never remember my dreams, but I do doubt that any of them have been prophetic ones although I do know that God, over the centuries, has communicated with people through dreams (seemingly far more often than through locutions, which is my more common, although rare, experience). So it is even more fascinating for me to read about a dream as highly prophetic -- and initially difficult to understand -- as Nebuchadnezzar's. Here is the dream, as reported to Daniel by King Nebuchadnezzar:
"I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. 12 Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed.

In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger,coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. 16 Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him.

The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of people."
Reading on, one finds Daniel's interpretation of this dream. King Nebuchadnezzar was the tree. He had become powerful. More important (or more distressing), he had become proud that his kingdom extended so far in all directions, and he did not glorify God adequately for this but held some of the praise within for himself. So, God's plan was to humble him by sending him out into the fields to live with the wild animals like an animal until such time that his pride was relinquished and he knew the overwhelming power of the Lord.

And this is precisely what befell Nebuchadnezzar. He found himself living among the animals until he had been humbled, after which his royal entourage found him and returned him to his throne, a humbled and grateful man.

Reading: Daniel 4

Meditation: This dream of Nebuchadnezzar hit home for me. I have often felt -- and said -- that it is difficult to integrate worldly success with spiritual humility. Possible with the help of God, yes, but, oh, so difficult because it is so tempting to assume that one is a "self-made person" and that one can go it alone. After all, in American society, at least, we encourage people to move up the ladder, so to speak, and we praise self-made people. Being motivated by the rung of the ladder and the praise of men, however, take us far from those fields of wild animals where God would have us understand who is great and who is small, who is important and who is not, who is to be glorified and who is to do the glorifying.

On a daily basis, this is brought home to me. As a very senior manager, even though I am in a position where God intended me to be, I have moments of assuming that I can personally make decisions -- and, my goodness, those decisions are almost always flawed in some way, or if not flawed, then not nearly as insightful and good as they could be. On the other hand, when I do take these to God in prayer before jumping to some human conclusion and when I do give credit to its rightful Belonger, that is, when I do realize who is in charge and how little I personally contribute, then things work out amazingly well, better than anything I could possible plan or enact.

Some time ago, I wrote a couple of posts about the price of success and how my division would be dismantled in two years, with me reporting to a new person brought in as a layer between me and the highest level of management to whom I now report. With God's help, I had put aside all concern about that plan, not without great effort at subduing the pride that said, "hey, I created this success, let me have it; don't pass it along to someone who did nothing for it." God showed me, though, that this was not the right attitude, and with some help from God -- an evening walk here and there, a prayer now and then, I was able to reconcile myself to reality and eventuality. However, over the next two years, things have changed, and the plan has been scrapped. So, too, has been my undue pride. So, while the threatened intermediary never showed up to change my status in the human world, God changed it in the spiritual world. I have found that I like it better that way -- and if some intermediary ever does show up (looks pretty doubtful given the current economic climate), it won't matter because anything I have created was with the help of God, supervisors and employees. I would very much hesitate now to take credit for any of it. I prefer instead to join Nebuchadnezzar in glorifying God.

Contemplation: That is far as I can go with you this Monday morning. I now retire to private prayer to praise God for all the reasons I have to glorify Him. I will thank God for His lessons, and I will ask forgiveness for those times that I have been slow to learn them. I will also ask God to continue to give me those lessons in humility that I so much need. Then I will move on to contemplation, my favorite part of the day, letting God take over the direction in which my relationship with Him moves.

I will leave you now to your prayer and contemplation. First, though, I would like to bring to your attention a Monday morning prayer post that you might enjoy:

Fr. Austin Fleming, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and pastor in Concord, Massachusetts, posts a prayer each Monday morning that he calls "Monday Morning Offering." I enjoy his prayers very much. I think you also will find them inspirational. He has graciously given me permission to include a link to his blog on my Monday Morning Meditation posts. (During the week, he also posts great homilies and other thoughtful discussions. I enjoy reading those, too, as do readers of this blog who have taken the stroll over to his blog.)

For additional inspiration throughout the week, I would point out two sets of blogs: (1) the list of devotional blogs on my sidebar and (2) my blogroll, where I am following a number of inspirational priests and writers about spiritual matters. I learn so very much from all these people. I highly recommend them to you.


  1. I certainly agree that success breeds pride. I only recognize that I failed once in my career, when I could not succeed at 3 full time jobs simultaneously. I was disappointed in myself. My successes led me to expect success, and yes, take a pride in it.

    Humility, like faith, I believe to be a gift. I prayed long and hard for it, for I was blessed to see myself in the mirror. Don't fear disintegration of your position, Elizabeth, but look at it as merely another challenge, if it is proper to be done --- or the will of God. I was blessed with the wisdom to discover ways to eliminate three of my prior positions, and was surprised that the subsequent ones were even more challenging and interesting. Never forget, God IS good.